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Sept. 23, 2010 Volume 32, No. 5

With $650,000 goal, university kicks off 2010 United Way campaign


Deaton: MU’s “culture of giving back” touches many lives

More Americans are living in poverty than at any time in the last half-century. More than 50 million people have no health insurance. Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population, including 420,000 Missourians, struggles to get enough to eat.

Rich Oliver knows the economic hardships that have touched every community present a challenge for charitable organizations. But Oliver, tri-chair of the 2010 University of Missouri United Way campaign, is confident MU employees will do what they’ve done year after year — step up and make a difference.

“I know it’s going to be a tough year,” said Oliver, dean of the MU School of Health Professions, at the university campaign’s kickoff breakfast Sept. 17 in the Clinton Room at Mizzou Arena. “But a lot of people need our help.”

Indeed, Cindy Mustard, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, which offers social and financial support to elderly and low-income mid-Missourians, said the number of families who sought services from the agency for the first time rose 23 percent in 2010. She attributes the increase to an employment rate of about 9 percent, the failure of disability and Social Security benefits to keep pace with inflation and an increase in the number of homeless families with children.

“We’re seeing people who have never had to ask for help before, and we’re seeing a need for services we haven’t always had to provide,” she said. 

The Voluntary Action Center is one of 31 local agencies whose budgets rely on the United Way. Mustard said her agency has been “well supported” by the campaign since 1972. This summer alone, donations helped the center purchase 332 box fans for elderly residents, provide 4700 lunches to disadvantaged children (a roughly 10 percent increase over 2009) and help 357 children with “scholarships” to pay for swim lessons, participation in youth sports and other activities. 

“There are more moms who may have had a job, but now don’t, but who want to keep some normality within the family,” Mustard said. “Parents want their children to still be able to participate, to provide them with what we call ‘tools to succeed.’ This is a lot of the reason why we’re seeing so many new families.”

Mustard said that, because the economy continues to struggle, funding from other sources, such as the city of Columbia, will likely remain flat over the next couple of years. That’s why the United Way is so important, said Don McCubbin, chair of the 2010 Heart of Missouri United Way community campaign. 

Historically, the university has been “the single largest entity in the community campaign,” McCubbin said, and that generosity will be especially important to this year’s fundraising effort. “The need is real,” he said, “and the need is growing.”

More than 100 people — including university tri-chairs Frank Schmidt, professor of biochemistry, and Joe Scogin, assistant director of athletics — attended the kickoff of the university’s campaign. The breakfast featured appearances, via video, by UM President Gary Forsee and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton. 

Deaton said the 500 university employees who gave to the United Way for the first time in 2009 represent a “culture of giving back that touches so many lives in the community.” Forsee, who set a system-wide goal of 25 percent participation in this year’s campaigns, noted that the 2010 goal of $650,000 is 20 percent of the Heart of Missouri United Way’s overall community goal of $3.3 million.

“Your support is key to the health and well-being of your fellow citizens,” he said.